The Restoration of the Lichfield Canal - an Act of Faith

It was a pleasure to see so many people in attendance at St Mary's Centre on Thursday 20th November to head Eric Wood and his colleague Bob Williams of the Lichfield and Hatherton Canals Trust talk about their plans for, and progress on, the restoration of the Lichfield Canal. The canal was opened in 1797 and linked the Coventry Canal at Huddlesford with the Wyrley and Essington Canal at Brownhills. It was closed in 1954 since when the land has passed into several ownerships and has become overgrown, filled in or in parts developed. It is the aim of the trust to restore the canal as a navigable waterway.

Members of the Society will have known for some time the intentions of the Trust. They have been well publicised. What Eric Wood did at the meeting, with the aid of some excellent slides, was to provide a much more detailed picture of the project; the route to be followed (which will not go through Bison's concrete works), the locks to be repaired, the new channels to be dug out, the physical obstacles such as electricity sub-stations to be moved, railways and roads to be crossed - all of which have to be overcome.

The obstacles are not only physical ones. There are others that might be posed as a series of questions. How do you raise the necessary funds, estimated to be of the order of 8 - 9 million, even with the assistance of European and Lottery Fund grants? How do you persuade the land-owners to hand over their land at little or no cost? Can you ensure that planning permission for the whole length of the canal can be secured, especially in the face of almost certain hostile public reaction to work on some sections? When I speak to many people they do not think the restoration will ever happen. They do not take the idea seriously. They cannot imagine that a small charitable Trust, perceived to be dependent on a multiplicity of small donations and income from the sale of sweat shirts, videos and the like, can possibly undertake such a major engineering operation. Yet it is already happening!

A feasibility study has been completed, land has been purchased, a new culvert has been constructed, a lock had been repaired and a channel is being dug at Darnford. In the overall scheme of things the steps taken so far may seem to be modest but are creating a momentum which will hopefully gather pace. No one should be under the illusion that this will be a project, the final fruition of which will take a long time. That the Trust's vision will be realised is an act of faith borne on the wings of enthusiasm and patience. It deserves to confound the doubters and to succeed in its efforts. The wider community, as the ultimate beneficiary of these efforts, should support the Trust.

Mr Wood should be congratulated on his entertaining, informative and thought provoking talk. It was an evening enjoyed by all.

Mike Tole
November 1997